Fired PEPP leader looking for answers
FARGO, N.D. - The former executive director of People Escaping Poverty Project is still searching for answers as to why he was let go from the organization, which the nonprofit's board now says is on "hiatus."...
FARGO, N.D. - The former executive director of People Escaping Poverty Project is still searching for answers as to why he was let go from the organization, which the nonprofit's board now says is on "hiatus."
Duke Schempp headed PEPP for 20 years until the end of April, when he said he arrived at the organization's office in Moorhead to find the locks changed.
PEPP's board sent out a news release April 29 saying Schempp had made "outstanding contributions" in his time as director and that he would no longer be serving in that post.
Schempp said he was never officially notified that he was no longer with the organization, and calls to the four board members went unanswered, he said.
Since his exit, the phone lines and website for the organization are unavailable.
In a public e-mail Tuesday, Schempp explained his situation with PEPP over the past few months.
"I have never been treated with so much disrespect and personal hostility," he said in the e-mail that went out to many of his PEPP contacts.
In a statement Wednesday, the board said it cannot disclose any information about why Schempp is no longer employed by PEPP.
The organization has faced a "severe financial crunch" over the past 12 months, the board statement said.
Schempp served as the main grant writer for the nonprofit that works for social and racial justice, and he said PEPP will not be able to raise funds without him.
The board's statement said PEPP will take a three-month hiatus to discern its "next steps."
But "the unfortunate consequence of some of the way in which this recent personnel matter is publicly being communicated is that we have lost funding support," the statement said.
Schempp said he suspects his personal relationship with board members played a role in the board's actions.
For 25 years, Schempp dated Lysa Ringquist, an organizer at PEPP.
In December, Cindy Gomez, a PEPP board member, and her daughters moved in with Schempp and Ringquist. Following the end of Schempp and Ringquist's relationship in January, Schempp and Gomez began dating in late February or early March, he said.
"Her and I breaking up shouldn't have any bearing on the organization," Schempp said. "(They're) holding me accountable for something that had nothing to do with my job."
"The board acted in its legal and fiduciary duties to the organization. The version of the story being circulated is far from the 'whole' picture," says the statement from board members Jenenne Guffey, Scott Edward Haugen, Sureshi Jayawardene and Tammie Yak, who declined any further comment.
A message left for Ringquist Wednesday was not immediately returned.
The board voted in March to have Gomez, who also serves as editor of the High Plains Reader, step down from her position at PEPP, Gomez said.
Gomez said no reason was given in the e-mail she received notifying her of the change.
Schempp said he hired an attorney to recover property still in PEPP's Moorhead office as well as wages and benefits he said he is owed.
Schempp said he worked hard to build relationships in the community and his treatment by PEPP has left him with a tarnished reputation.
He is now working to build a new organization dealing with media justice and other social issues, he said.